Category Archives: Feast Days

On “Saint” Mary Magdalene – 2021

St. Mary of Magdala: Despite a bad reputation, she is the “Apostle to the Apostles…”

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us all to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that God wants us all to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.) The fourth – and most often overlooked – is that Jesus wants us all to read the Bible with an open mind. See Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Last Thursday, July 22, was the Feast Day for Mary from Magdala. She is a saint, and the only reason I put the word in quotes is that she ended up a saint despite the best efforts of jealous male disciples. (Because she showed more courage than they did when it counted.)

And that “showing more courage” seems to be why she got the reputation for a “sordid past.” On the other hand, there’s the opinion of St. Augustine, who referred to her as the “Apostle to the Apostles.” On that note see also Mary of Magdala | FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity… Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner… Paintings [of her], some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance. Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art.

The one indisputable fact seems to be that Mary Magdalene was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus. 

As for the Crucifixion itself, only one Gospel had a male disciple at the scene, John. (In “his*” Gospel, Ch. 19. Or see Who Was Present at the Cross?) But many women were there, as noted in Mark 15:40: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.”

And John, Chapter 20 tells the full story of Mary Magdalene being both the first to see the empty tomb and the first to see the Risen Jesus, as shown in the painting below.

For starters, see John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” She went to tell Peter and John, who checked the tomb, then “went back to where they were staying.” But Mary – faithful Mary, of the lousy reputation – stayed, as noted in John 20:11-18.  She saw two angels, then turned to see another man she took to be a caretaker:

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Which is why this Mary – from Magdala – is rightly known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

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“The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen…”

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I gleaned the text and two illustrations from past posts: Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” (2015), Mary of Magdala and James the Greater, Saints (2017), Mary Magdalene, and “conserving talents…” (2018), Mary Magdalene – and all those “rules and regulations…” (2019), and from last year at this time, Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid.”

More specifically, the lower image is courtesy of Rembrandt – The Risen Christ. The full caption: “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen, by Rembrandt (1638).” And speaking of “racy,” Titian did two versions of Mary. For the “racy” (1533) version see Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Re: John in “his” Gospel. There is some dispute about the actual author. See for example, Who Wrote John’s Gospel? | Biblical Foundations, which mentioned several other possible authors, including the Apostle Thomas and Mary Magdalene herself.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added-on phrase, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus expects us to do greater miracles than He did. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mindSee the Wikipedia article, as to its opposite:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

See also Splitting (psychology) – Wikipedia, on the phenomenon also called black-and-white thinking, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

See also Definition of CLOSED-MINDED – Merriam-Webster, “not willing to consider different ideas or opinions having or showing a closed mind.” As used in a sentence: “He’s becoming increasingly closed-minded in his old age.” Other articles on the topic include The Difference Between Open-Minded and Closed-Minded People, and The Closed Mind | Psychology Today.

So anyway, in plain words this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. The Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible offers so much more than their narrow reading can offer… (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” And as noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind

For more about “Boot-camp Christians” see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” And as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The image below is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

On “John T. Baptist,” Peter and Paul – 2021

Bucking traditionZechariah (prophet and father of “the Baptist”) wrote, “My son’s name is John…”

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.) The fourth – and most overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. See Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Last Thursday, June 24, was the feast day recalling the Birth (Nativity) of St. John, the Baptist.

Next Tuesday, June 29, is the feast day for remembering St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. Turning to the earlier day, John the Baptist was the prophet “who foretold the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus, whom he later baptised.” The Bible readings are Isaiah 40:1-11Psalm 85Acts 13:14b-26, and Luke 1:57-80. Luke tells how Elizabeth – the cousin of Mary (mother of Jesus) – came to be a mother, and how her husband got struck dumb.

The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced…  [T]hey were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John…”

For more on John see The Nativity of John the Baptist, a post from June 2015. That post includes an image and text about John falling victim to Salome. (Illustrated at left.)

The text from Mark 6, verses 14-29 indicates that “Salome had danced so well for King Herod that he swore he would grant her any request. Her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge on John the Baptist, persuaded Salome to ask for his head.” 

On another note, John represents “Law, not Grace. Among men born of woman … he has no superior. But anyone who has been born anew in the kingdom of God has something better than what John symbolizes.” That something better is Jesus, who represents grace. (As in “My grace is all you need.”)

Turning to the other feast day, June 29 is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who “died together.*” It honors “the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.” Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t give details about the deaths of Peter or Paul, “or indeed any of the Apostles except for James the son of Zebedee.”  (See e.g. Acts 12:2.)  But early tradition said that they were martyred at Rome, at the command of the Emperor, and were buried there:

As a Roman citizen, Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. It is said of Peter that he was crucified head downward[. And thus as St. Augustine wrote,] “even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood…”

See John the Baptist, Peter and Paul – 2016, which described one of the disputes between Peter and Paul. This one came to a head with the Incident at Antioch. And of that dispute Wikipedia said, “The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain resulting in several Christian views of the Old Covenant to this day.” But briefly, that question involved how much of the Old Testament “law” was to be binding on Christians. (A question – including that of a requirement of male circumcision – which remains “even to this day.”

So to me the main point of the Feast of Peter and Paul – togther – is that it’s okay to have a difference of opinion between Christians. Or even to “squabble” from time to time. And for that matter, that it’s okay to argue with God too, if and as necessary. (As long as you pay the proper respect, you could end up a lot stronger, “spiritually and otherwise.”)

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“Scholars Disputing” – a painting of Peter and Paul managing to work together… 

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As indicated in the main text, this post was gleaned from prior posts, The Nativity of John the Baptist (2915), and John the Baptist, Peter and Paul – 2016.

The upper image is courtesy of the link – Benedictus (Song of Zechariah) – in the Wikipedia article, Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  The caption:  “Detail of Zechariah writing down the name of his son (Domenico Ghirlandaio, 15th century, Tornabuoni ChapelItaly).”

Re: “My grace is all you need.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. For more on Peter and Paul, including the movement of their “remains,” see Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”

Re: Peter and Paul, who “died together.” See On Peter, Paul – and other “relics:”

On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles. The date is the anniversary of a day around 258, under the Valerian Persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.

 In other words, the June 29 feast day is an ancient celebration, as “the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics.” Note too that the “Valerian Persecution” mentioned, of 258, involved the movement of the remains of Peter and Paul – the “relics” – not the date of their deaths. (They would have to have been over 200 years old.)

Re: Arguing with God. See the post, On arguing with God, which said that maybe – just maybe – we are supposed to “argue with God,” or “wrestle with God,” or even “wrestle with the idea of God.” Maybe, just maybe, that’s how we get spiritually stronger, by “resistance training” rather than passively accepting anything and everything in the Bible, without question or questioning.

The lower image is courtesy of Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon … (web gallery of art.)  The explanatory section added that the most likely explanation of the painting is that it “represents St Peter and St Paul in conversation,” or even Argument:

Rembrandt omits the attributes by which the two apostles were traditionally identified, he relies only on their physical characteristics … and on what they are seen to be doing, that is earnestly discussing a text which the one (St Peter) is explaining to the other.

For other interpretations and/or images, see also canvasreplicas.com/Rembrandt, and Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

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For more on the blog and its main themes, see the notes to Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021.

On D-Day and St. Barnabas – 2021

A reminder of this past June 6: Saint Augustine was an early advocate of the Just war theory...

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.) The fourth – and most overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. See Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

I just got back from a lightning, one-week mini-vacation. First to Rockville Maryland – for my grandson’s wedding – then on to Pigeon Forge Tennessee for a family get-together. (Including a day-visit to Dollywood, illustrated at left.)

I got back home late last Thursday (6/10/21), and over the long Recuperation Weekend that followed, I checked my blogs. My last post on this blog – “Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021” – came back on May 29, 2021. So it’s about time another post on this Blog, but lucky me, just last June 11 was the Feast Day for St. Barnabas. And five days before that we – or some of us – remembered D-Day, back during World War II. Which is a reminder that life isn’t always a bowl of cherries.* Or put another way, we are called to vigor – spiritual discipline – not comfort. (See About the Blog, above.)

There’s more on that below, but first a word about St. Barnabas.

The Bible first mentions Barnabas in Acts 4:36:  “Joseph, a Levite, born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles.”  And Barnabas the Apostle – Justus added that even after Paul’s Damascus Road experience, most Christians in Jerusalem “wanted nothing to do with him. They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church. But Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance.” (Which is pretty much what Jesus is all about.)

To sum up, if it hadn’t been for Barnabas’ willingness to give Paul a second chance – Paul, the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the “Founder of Christianity.*”

But what’s all this about “just war” and our annual remembrance of June 6 as D-Day, a key turning point in World War II? Just that the lessons our American armed forces learned in that war can teach us a valuable lesson today about the better way to read and study the Bible.

That is, American armed forces succeeded on D-Day – and contributed greatly in winning World War II – because of our native INGENUITY. (That is, because as Americans we are inherently creative and constantly ask questions.) We constantly look for better ways of doing things. On the other hand there are some “Bible-thumpers” who look at the Faith of the Bible as a way of “trying to create a culture that rewards conformism and stifles creativity.” 

In the same way, one theme of this blog is that the very same question-asking, probing method of Bible study is far better for both an individual reader and our society as a whole. It’s far better than just saying, “Oh, I’ll take everything that slick-haired televangelist says at face value!

My point is that Bible reading should be an adventure. It should help us reach our full potential, as individuals and as a nation. It should help us become happier, more creative and able to find better ways of living lives of abundance. And that’s as opposed to the concept of “sin,” and how some of those same Bible-thumpers seem to relish making other people feel guilty.

On that note see On June 6, 2016 and also On D-Day and confession:

Maybe that’s what the Bible and/or the church concepts of sin and confession are all about… When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals; we “miss the target.” When we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were. And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty all the time… [M]aybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are tools to help us get closer to the target “next time out,” even if we know we can never become “perfect.”

Also on that note see On sin and cybernetics, from 2014, which added this: “Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us realize the purpose Jesus had for us, to wit: To ‘live life in all its abundance.’” (See John 10:10, above.)

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You can’t hit the target without “negative feedback…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Just war theory – Wikipedia: “The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure that a war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met in order for a war to be considered just.” For more information google “christianity and just war theory.”

Re: Life as a bowl of cherries. (Or not.) See Life is just a bowl of cherries – Idioms by The Free Dictionary. Originally meaning everything was great, the “slangy phrase, often used ironically, gained currency as the title of a song by Ray Henderson,” performed by Ethel Merman in the in the Scandals of 1931. “Today it is nearly always used ironically…”

Re: Vigor, not comfort. From Evelyn Underhill’s book Practical Mysticism:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement. . .  Do not suppose from this that your new career [as a Christian] is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom;  but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.

Re: The Apostle Paul as a “Founder of Christianity.” A search “st paul founder of christianity” leads to wildly divergent opinions. But see also A brief guide to the Apostle Paul, and why he is so important.

A final note: Most of this post was gleaned from On St. Barnabas and On St. Barnabus’ Day, 2015. The lower (“arrow”) image is courtesy of “releasetheape.com … 2012/12/arrow-target1-890×556.png.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added-on phrase, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mindSee the Wikipedia article, which talks about its opposite:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

For more on the blog and its main themes, see the notes to Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021.

On Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021…

“Commemorating the descent of the Holy Spiriton the very first “Pentecost Sunday…”

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Last May 23 was Pentecost Sunday. On a related note – I hope – I just ran across an old post from early 2015, On Pink Floyd and “rigid schooling.” (From a companion blog.) It started off describing a Christmas visit that I made to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (In 2014.) From there it went off on a[n apparent] tangent.

That is, the post went on to describe some of the Biblical prophets, like Isaiah. (At left.) And said that those Bible prophets were very much like Pink Floyd, “cited by some as the greatest progressive rock band of all time.” That is, those Bible prophets were “also the ‘spokesmen of protest’ and the ‘radicals of their day.'”

That last statement about “radical protest” led me to google “radical meaning of pentecost.” Which led me to Sermon: The radical roots of the Church at Pentecost | Rev Doc Geek. (Written by Avril Hannah-Jones, and posted on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021.) One of her thoughts? “Pentecost is a story about God’s commitment to human diversity.”

(Or, “God’s commitment to each person open-mindedly developing their full potential?”)

Hannah-Jones spoke of the Disciples and their followers “speaking in other languages” on the original day of Pentecost. (Of which more below.) Then of Peter refuting a claim that the speakers were simply drunk. (“That early in the day.”) But one key feature of that first Day of Pentecost was that very multilingualism, not to be confused with glossolalia. (Or “speaking in tongues,” which according to one definition is the “ecstatic, usually unintelligible speech uttered in a worship service,” or fabricated or non-meaningful speech.)

“Doc Geek” said that act of “speaking in different languages” was itself radical, an “obvious challenge to the Roman Empire,” which wanted everyone to speak a single language, Greek or Latin. (Like too many of today’s so-called Christians, who think their “fundamental” interpretation of the Bible-Faith is the only valid one, on pain of all who disagree “going to hell.”)

But my theory is that unless any good Christian is infallible, he or she cannot know either all the answers or all of the “Ultimate Truth.” (And if that person is infallible, the rest of us can say, “It’s about time. We’ve been waiting for You to come back these past 2,000 years!”)

So in the sense that all of us mortals arefallible,” we Christians as well are more like the blind men and an elephant. Each of us may know part of God’s Ultimate Truth,* but only by comparing notes and through spirited debate – the free marketplace of ideas – can we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.” (2d Peter 3:18.)

And that theory itself is pretty radical. (To some people anyway…) But back to somehow bringing together Pink Floyd and Pentecost Sunday, 2021. That effort led me back to “this time last year,” back to last year’s post, Pentecost 2020 – “Learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

And just as a reminder, the first sentence of that post was, “We’re just starting the 12th full week of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Illustrated at right. And for the record, we’re now in the sixty-second – 62d – full week of COVID; 15 months and two weeks.)

And – just to review – speaking of Pentecost in the Liturgical year:

That’s the 49th day (seventh sunday) after Easter Sunday, and it commemorates “the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks.” (As described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31It’s also known as the Birthday of the Church

In turn, that “learn what is pleasing to the Lord” phrase came from Ephesians 5:10. And alternatives to the word “learn” are the words “test” and “prove,” as in the Berean Study Bible, “Test and prove what pleases the Lord.” One commentary added:

To prove is to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ… We are not to follow the tradition of our people … we are to prove the matter, to put it to the test.

In other words, we can’t find out how to “please Christ,” personally, as individuals, by merely becoming carbon-copy, “cookie cutter” or Comfort Zone Christians. Instead “we are to prove the matter” of our faith, to “put it to the test.” We are to live our lives fully, without fear

Which is pretty much one major theme of this blog. And that’s the very same theme that I noted in Pink Floyd – “rigid schooling.” Put another way, that post spoke again of how some people – like “Conservative Christians?” – read, study and apply the Bible to their everyday life “by the book.” That is, way too literally or “fundamentally.” Which is another way of saying that “going by the book isn’t always the best course. It’s always a good place to start, and it’s always easier to do. The problem comes when that’s all you know.”

To put it in more concrete terms, that post used an example from Shakespeare; the part where Juliet tells Romeo, “You kiss by the book.” That is, Juliet meant that Romeo kissed “as if he ha[d] learned how to kiss from a manual.” The web article SparkNotes: Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, scene 5, said the comment could be taken two ways, one involving a “lack of experience.”

Or it could be interpreted like this:

Juliet’s comment that Romeo kisses by the book is akin to noting that he kisses as if he has learned how to kiss from a manual and followed those instructions exactly. In other words, he is proficient, but unoriginal… 

(Emphasis added.) Which is pretty much what those so-called Conservative Christians get by and through their style of Bible study. They get “proficient, but unoriginal.” And yet the Bible itself says – repeatedly – that our job is to sing to the Lord a NEW song. (That theme “of singing a new song to the Lord – and not just another stale, old ‘conservative’ or literalist rehash – is repeated again and again in the Bible. Like in Isaiah 42:10, and Psalm 96:1Psalm 98:1, and Psalm 144:9.”) And speaking of proving and testing, consider what Buddha once said:

Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations…  Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or of priests. After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is good for your good and that of others.

(Emphasis added.) And that’s the same thing the Bible says in 1st John 4:1, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (E.A.)

Which brings us back to 2015’s Pink Floyd and “rigid schooling.” One of the key lyrics to the band’s song The Wall is “We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control.” As an adult nearing my 70th summer I’d agree in part and disagree in part. I’d say “these young punks today need some education,” but I’d say they’re right about the thought-control part:

So maybe that’s what Pink Floyd was saying with “We don’t need no thought control.” Teach us how to create out of the basics. Teach us how to become both proficient and original. But don’t try to turn us into “compliant cogs in the societal wheel…”

Which – in my opinion – is pretty much what you’ll become if you read and apply the Bible Faith too literally or too “fundamentally.” And aside from short-changing yourself, you’ll be driving away from Jesus the very people who need Him the most. Which is one reason that now – for the first time in 80 years – Less Than 50% of Americans Formally Belong to a Church. Yet another reason for the decline is that those people just don’t know The Real Good News: That being a real Christian doesn’t mean you have to be just another brick in the wall

All of which is something good to remember on this Pentecost “Happy Birthday, Church!”

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By all means. Instead you should “sing to the Lord a new song.” (Psalm 96:1.)

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The upper image was originally courtesy of Pentecost Sunday Images – Image Results. But see also El Greco – Pentecost, 1610 at Prado Museum Madrid Spain, which I went on to “glean.” The caption is from the Wikipedia article, gleaned from the following: “The Christian High Holy Day of Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day (the seventh Sunday) from Easter Sunday. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).”

The image of Isaiah is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia. The full caption reads:  “detail of entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza showing verse from Isaiah 33:6 Rockefeller CenterNew York.”

Re: Fallible. See the Free Dictionary: likely to fail or make errors. Used in a sentence. “Everyone is fallible to some degree.” A thought mirrored in Romans 3:10, citing – among other passages – Psalm 14:3 and 1st John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Re: Blind men and elephant. See On St. James (“10/23”) – and the 7 blind men, from October 2018.

Re: Part of that Ultimate Truth. See 1st Corinthians 13:12. In the Amplified Bible:

For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully…

Which might be amplified, “Then – and only then – will I know fully.”

Re: “Kissing by the book.” See SparkNotes: Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, scene 5, which said the comment could be taken two ways, one about Juliet’s “lack of experience.” Or it could be interpreted like this:

Juliet’s comment that Romeo kisses by the book is akin to noting that he kisses as if he has learned how to kiss from a manual and followed those instructions exactly. In other words, he is proficient, but unoriginal…  (E.A.)

And for future reference on the topic, see Jesus the radical: What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills, to support the “radical protest” idea. But I found it didn’t fit the general tenor of this post, so I include it here:

Precisely because Jesus is a mysterious, divine figure, however, he is also an iconoclast who escapes ordinary human religious and political categories: “He did not found a church or advocate a politics…” [Wills’] underlying concern seems to be that the “faith-based politics” of the contemporary evangelical Right in the U.S is a form of “idolatry” based on values alien to Jesus” teaching.

Re: Decline in church members. See also U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.

The lower image is courtesy of Just Another Brick In The Wall – Image Results.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added-on phrase, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mindSee the Wikipedia article, which talks about its opposite:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

See also Splitting (psychology) – Wikipedia, on the phenomenon also called black-and-white thinking, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

So anyway, in plain words this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. The Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible offers so much more than their narrow reading can offer… (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” And as noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind

For more about “Boot-camp Christians” see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” And as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The image below is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

On “weathering the storm” – from May 2020 to now…

In part, this post takes a look at how we’ve “weathered the storm” over the past year or so…

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Happy “First day of May, 2021!” Among other things, May 1 is the Feast Day for St Philip and St James, Apostles. (Or see Saint Philip and Saint James, from the Satucket website.) I last covered this feast day in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. I posted it on May 7, 2020 – almost a year ago – and noted that “we are now in the eighth full week of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

I also noted this bit of wisdom on how to “weather the storm,” advice from the 16th century:

“Keep quiet, work in solitude, outwardly conform, inwardly remain free.” Which as a result of the European wars of religion [in the the 16th century] created a figure new to Europe but “familiar in the great ages of China: the intellectual recluse.” (Which at this point evokes – to the writer anyway – the old Maynard G. Krebs repeated line, “You rang?“) 

The point being that one way to weather a storm – like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – is become a kind of “intellectual recluse.” (Which brings up again Maynard G. Krebs‘ “You rang?“) 

I’ll write more on last year’s post further below, but first I wanted to note some more “wisdom.” This from a post I did in February 2015, The True Test of Faith. Here’s how I summarized that “true test” in my 2018 E-book titled, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian:”

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True Test of Faith talked about two Christians who die, then find out there is no God, no heaven, no afterlife, no reward for good behavior. The first one is outraged. “What? You mean I could have spent my life partying? Boozing it up? Chasing women, loose and otherwise? Boy am I mad, when I think of all those fun things that I could have been doing!”

The second Christian is a more thoughtful. He thinks of the path he’s followed. He thinks of his reading the Bible on a daily basis, thereby finding comfort and inspiration. He remembers how this process led him into some unexpected life breakthroughs, and on many true-life adventures. He thinks of all the “testing adventures” he’s had; some he passed, some he failed. 

And after all this thinking about his life, his faith and his Bible-reading, the second Christian ends up saying, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.” 

That’s the kind of faith I’m trying to develop. Of course, I do believe in God, and in Jesus. I also believe that “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, emphasis added.)  I’m just saying, that’s the kind of faith I’m trying to develop. 

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And that could be the kind of faith that’s been tested – for a great many people – over the past year or so. Which may be why last year’s St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020 went off on so many tangents. (Looking for answers.) Like one answer from the 1759 novel Candide, by Voltaire. (In French, “il faut cultiver notre jardin.”) Or to simply “persevere,” meaning to persist or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.

Which includes “the discipline of continuing our Daily Bible Reading.” Like honoring and remembering feast days for Saints like Philip and James the Lesser. (Together with the reason the two are remembered together.*) All of which reminds us of God’s love for all mankind as being universal. (Capable of “reaching even those beyond the pale – if not untouchable.”)

 In other words, the point of Acts 8:26-40 – Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch – is that God’s Love is Universal. (See also Jonah and the bra-burners.*) So here’s to “Philip and James – Saints and Apostles,” and their Feast Day.

And furthermore, here’s to a loving God whose love is so universal that He is ready and willing to accept anyone. (Who turns to Him. See John 6:37.) Happy St. Philip and St. James day!

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Saints Philip and James the Lesser – together in the “Basilica of the 12 Holy Apostles…*” 

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The upper image is courtesy of Weather The Storm Images – Image Results. It accompanies an article “How does climate change affect weather? – new briefing paper and podcast,” a 12/19/18 post from the Royal Meteorological Society, “UK’s Professional and Learned Society for weather and climate.”

Re: Saint Philip and Saint James. The full Daily Bible readings for the day include “AM Psalm 119:137-160, Job 23:1-12John 1:43-51[;] PM Psalm 139,” along with Proverbs 4:7-18 and John 12:20-26.

Re: Last year’s post, St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. While the instant blog platform listed the publication date as May 8, 2020, I actually posted it late on the previous evening, May 7, 2020.

Re: The 16th century. The quote in the main text is from historian Kenneth Clark‘s 1969 book Civilisation, “about what some people did during a time of great upheaval. (Like today’s.)” And as quoted from last year’s post on Saints Philip and James. See also Wikipedia, on that 16th century.

Re: Recluse, intellectual or otherwise. See Wikipedia, which noted “We live in a society that stigmatizes seclusion, yet has an almost rabid fascination with it at the same time. A survey of history shows that some of the most brilliant thinkers, writers and artists turned their backs on society to embrace a life of voluntary seclusion.”

Re: Why Philip and James are remembered together. See New Daily Compass:

The two apostles Philip and James the Lesser are remembered with a single liturgical feast because their relics, transferred respectively from Hierapolis and Jerusalem, were placed together in the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles [“Santi Apostoli“] in Rome.

The lower image is courtesy of Saints Philip and James – Franciscan Media. Caption: “Image: Detail of reredos | Polytych by Maestà | Wikimedia.”


Happy “Sunday of Many Names!”

The Apostle Thomas, in his later years – in India? – after he finally “overcome his doubts…”

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I last posted on Palm Sunday, March 28. In that post I looked ahead to Easter Sunday, April 4. (See On “Zen in the Art of College Football,” featuring the thought at left.) This post will revisit the Sunday after Easter, to wit: The “Sunday of Many Names.”

You can see one original at On “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017, which notes that today is known as: 1) The Second Sunday of Easter, 2) Low Sunday, 3) Doubting Thomas Sunday, 4) the “Octave of Easter,” and finally 5) “Quasimodo Sunday.” That last is from the Latin translation of First Peter 2:2, “Quasi modo geniti infantes,” as explained below. 

For starters, today is officially the Second Sunday of Easter. Note the “of,” rather than “after.” That’s because Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.” It’s a full season of 50 days – called Eastertide, “spanning from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.”

But today is also known – and in many churches is better known – as Low Sunday. That’s mostly because church attendance falls off so drastically that first Sunday “after.” (Compared with the high attendance of Easter Day itself…)

But you can also – as noted – call this day the “Sunday of Many Names.” For example, it’s known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday” … because the Gospel lesson always tells the story of the disciple Thomas. (See e.g. John 20:19-31, “which recounts the story of Christ appearing to the Apostle Thomas in order to dispel the latter’s doubt about the Resurrection.”  Which made him in essence the original – the prototype – “Doubting Thomas.”)

And today is known as the Octave of Easter. (In this case the Octave in question is the eight-day period “in Eastertide that starts on Easter Sunday and runs until the Sunday following Easter.”) And finally, it’s known as “Quasimodo Sunday.” But that’s not because of Quasimodo, the guy – shown at right – who is better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

That name comes from the Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2. (A traditional “introit” used in churches this day.) First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…” (Or translated as, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”) But in Latin the verse reads:  “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” Literally, “quasi modo means ‘as if in [this] manner.’”

So, since “geniti” translates as “newborn” and the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident, the “quasi modo” in question roughly translates, “As if in the manner” (of newborn babes)… 

The Coffman Commentaries on the Bible provides some background on this verse. in the King James version the verse reads, “as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation:”

Paul used this same figure in 1 Corinthians 3:2; but Peter here, using the same figure, stresses, not the contrasting diet of infants and adults, but the appetite which all Christians should have in order to grow. All Christians should have a constant and intense longing for the word of God.

Which is pretty much the main theme of this blog: That all true Christians should have a strong “appetite in order to grow.” And a point which Paul seemed to be making in 1st Corinthians 3:2, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

But some people, it seems, are content to remain “babes in Christ.” Or boot-camp Christians, like those “Biblical literalists who never go ‘beyond the fundamentals.’” But how else – you may ask – are we to do “greater miracles than Jesus,” as mandated by John 14:12?

Like that Apostle, “Doubting Thomas,” who ended up making his own “passage to India.” See for example, Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.” That April 2015 post noted the tradition that Thomas sailed to India in 52 AD, to spread the Christian faith, with details of his martyrdom:

According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed in 72 AD [near] Mylapore near Chennai in India… This is the earliest known record of his martyrdom. Some Patristic literature state[s] that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia or in North India by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers.

One result? India, and especially the Malabar coast, still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas,’” as memorialized by the stamp below. (Not bad for a “newborn in Christ” who had to overcome his substantial doubts…)

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Attributions for the upper and lower images – as well as those in the main text – can be found in the “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017 post, and the Wikipedia articles included therein. For example, the lower image is from Wikipedia on the Apostle Thomas.

“Gleaning” on the Epiphany – 2021

In this post I am gleaning past posts on The Epiphany – with a nod to  Jean-François Millet.

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Today, Wednesday, January 6, we celebrate the feast of The Epiphany. (It was also the day Congress (was supposed to) Count Electoral Votes, as that count affects last November’s presidential election, but that’s a whole ‘nother story entirely.*)

So this year’s Epiphany will be yet another “like no other” in American history. (For reasons both a bit surprising and yet reasonably foreseeable. And continuing a concept in line with 2020 – A Christmas like no other?) In turn, while the “secular” Electoral College count will be delayed – though only temporarily – we can still celebrate Epiphany. To review, that is the “Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.”

And that’s an idea that can definitely put things in perspective. (As in, “This too shall pass.”)

On that note, I’ve picked three earlier posts to glean from. (Seeking past “nuggets” on the Feast day.) And gleaning is now a term with multiple meanings. Originally it meant to “collect (grain, grapes, etc.) left behind after the main harvest or gathering.” Or to gather what was left in a field or vineyard. (As in the painting by Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, at the top of the page. See also Ruth 2:2, and following: “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind,” illustrated at right.)  But now it can also mean to “gather information in small amounts,” though sometimes with implied difficulty.

So, back to the past posts. From 2016, Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.” From two years later, Happy Epiphany – 2018. And from last year – which seems a decade ago – My recent Utah trip – and “3 Wise Guys.” That 2016 post noted January 6 is also called Three Kings’ Day. The post includes lot of information on those three kings – or wise men – and also on how that day ties in to the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. (January 1, also known as “National Hangover Day.”) The 2016 post also has lots of background on that particular ritual…

(That is, circumcision, not hangovers.)

As to Happy Epiphany – 2018, it said January 6 is also known as the last of the 12 Days of Christmas. (To confuse things more, the evening of January 5 is “12th Night.”) Then too, it pointed out that the word “epiphany” can also refer to an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, or “a making clear or public or obvious.” (On the question whether today’s “violence and anarchy” came under the heading “reasonably foreseeable.” See also Twitter blocks Trump for 12 hours, threatens permanent suspension. “Ya think?”)

Which brings us back to “just last year – which seems like a decade ago – My recent Utah trip.” Aside from discussing the circumcision aspect of the January 1st holiday, it also noted this:

. . . the end of an old year and beginning of a New Year is also a time to recall the events of that past year gone by, and 2019 was definitely a year of pilgrimage for me. Like my trip last May to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. (See “On to JerusalemOn my first full day in Jerusalem, or type in “Jerusalem” in the search box above right.)

So the Utah winter trip came at the end of a pilgrimage-filled 2019. Another example was my September 2019 trip to Portugal, for a 160-mile hike on the Portuguese Way (of the Camino de Santiago), from Porto to Santiago. (Type “Portugal” in the search box.) However, “my most recent pilgrimage was a 15-day drive out to and back from my brother’s house in Utah.”

All of those were great trips – great pilgrimages – in hindsight. But as for recalling “the events of that (last) past year gone by” – that is, the pandemic-plagued year 2020 – my response is “No, thank you!” It’s time to move on. (And come to think of it, I’m not too crazy about the “Capitol” events of January 6, 2021 either.) But getting back to last year’s mid-winter trip out to Utah. (As in a kind of Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet to Come. Here referring metaphorically to the time when we can once again take long road trips and travel overseas.)

That mid-winter trip included getting snowed in at a Motel 6 in Grand Island, Nebraska, with a view of a near-frozen North Platte River from my motel window, as shown below. But it also included a great burger and two draft beers at the Thunder Road Grill at the truck stop next door. So the way I figure, “there’s some kind of lesson there!

Here’s hoping for a much better 2021 (starting tomorrow)…

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The upper image is courtesy of The Gleaners – Wikipedia.

Re: “A whole ‘nother story.” See e.g. ‘Violence and anarchy.’ Chaos erupts following Trump’s unprecedented effort to overturn Biden’s election win.

Re: “This too shall pass.” The link is to 33 Encouraging Quotes for Times of Crisis | Inc.com. Some of my new favorites (from the site): “Any kind of crisis can be good. It wakes you up,” and “Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are.” Which is being interpreted: We will come out of today’s “crisis” stronger than before.

The painting of Ruth is courtesy of Wikipedia.

I took the photo at the end of the main text, of “Grand Island” outside my Motel 6 window, as noted. I also took a photo of my glasses on the bar next to a half-empty glass of draft beer. (The Motel 6 in question was at 7301 Bosselman Ave, Grand Island, NE. Next door was a full service trucker’s station, with a bar and grill. The full link to the “Thunder Road” website is Thunder Road Grill | Pizza, Wings & Burgers | Grand Island, NE.)

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2020 – A Christmas like no other?

“Seattle police wearing masks in December 1918.” Is 2020 a case of deja vu all over again?

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It’s Christmas Eve Day, 2020. Which leads to the question: “Is our Christmas Day in this crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 truly one ‘like no other?'”

The answer? “Actually, no.” There was for example Christmas in 1918…

Which led me to this article, Was Christmas celebrated during the 1918 Spanish Flu?

A largely unheeded warning from 1918…

For some background, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic started in February that year and lasted until April, 1920. (So, roughly two years and two months?) And in another “deja vu all over again,” the culprit was the H1N1 flu virus. (It also caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic.)

But back to 1918, when there was a little thing called World War I going on. The first recorded such “flu” case in the United States was said to come on March 4, 1918. “Albert Gitchell, an army cook” at Camp Funston in Kansas. (Although there were probably some cases before him.) First seen in Haskell County, Kansas, in January 1918, a local doctor warned the US Public Health Service, to no avail. Within days, 522 men at Camp Funston had reported sick, and by March 11, 1918, the virus had reached Queens, New York. And in a sign of things to be repeated:

Failure to take preventive measures in March/April was later criticized.

But wait, there’s more! Because the war was raging, censors minimized early reports. That is, they did so in the major countries involved in the war, but not in neutral Spain. There, reports of the disease weren’t censored, which is why the epidemic got the name “Spanish flu.”

From Camp Funston the disease spread through the American Expeditionary Forces, who brought it to Europe and the Western Front by mid-April, 1918. It then spread from France to Great Britain, Italy, Spain and beyond. After the March Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – between Germany and Russia – “Germany started releasing Russian prisoners of war, who then brought the disease to their country.” From there it spread to the rest of the world in four “waves,” with a much-deadlier second wave in late 1918. (With a third wave in 1919 and a fourth in 1920.) 

Later that year – on November 11, 1918 – the war ended, and people were so happy they “couldn’t be stopped from gathering to celebrate.” Then too the number of Spanish Flu cases went down toward the end of 1918, so restrictions were eased and many churches “swelled with the joyous music of the [Christmas] season once again.” But as one site noted, “History suggests that celebrating holidays during a pandemic by gathering in large groups, as one might during normal times, could have harmful and long-lasting effects.”

Which may explain the second, third and fourth “waves.” On the other hand, back then “they” had some advantages, as noted in A Look Back at Christmas During the Spanish Flu Pandemic. For one thing, Americans in 1918 were “much more familiar with epidemic disease:”

… epidemic disease was very familiar to the early 20th century public. Families, many of which had lost a child to diphtheria or watched a loved one suffer from polio, were generally willing to comply with some limitations on their activities. Most public health departments wore badges and had police powers, and this was generally uncontroversial. “They could forcibly quarantine you or put you on a quarantine station on an island.”

So much for the “advantage” being familiar with deadly epidemic diseases. But at least they were “willing to comply with some limitations on their activities.” And another point to remember is that – be all that as it may – the United States and the world survived. So much so that if it hadn’t been for this year’s COVID-19 pandemic – illustrated at right – few people today would have any reason to recall the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Which brings up a link from my last post, December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?” The gist of that link – Bad Things to Good People? | Psychology Today – was its “scientific” answer: That “the universe has no inherent purpose or design.”

However, the pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well who came up with that conclusion did offer up some good advice. (Bless his heart,” as we say in Georgia):

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter… When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

All of which is pretty much what Christians are supposed to do anyway. (Show empathy, try to alleviate the suffering of others.) And which was pretty much the point of Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. That rather than waiting on God to perform some miracle, we should get to work on the problem ourselves. Which brings up the “Christmas spirit.”

I Googled “what is the Christmas spirit” and got 4,180,000 results. Here’s one answer I liked, from What is Christmas Spirit? – Scientific American Blog Network:

The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit… After all, we are the sum of the individuals around us who generate the collective force that governs and organizes our social structure… When we “act out” Christmas spirit, we’re making visible this collective force, and we give it power.

Then there’s Christmas Spirit – Its Real Meaning | 7th Sense, which defined that spirit in three simple actions: Giving, Appreciating, and Doing service. Which is pretty much the same advice “pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well” offered a few paragraphs back…

And which is pretty much the conclusion I came to back on April 25, when I posted On St. Mark, 2020 – and today’s “plague.” Aside from the then-new COVID pandemic, it spoke of Mark’s “shorter” and more abrupt ending. (The one where, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.” I.e., without the account of His resurrection.) I said maybe the point of “both today’s Covid-19 ‘persecution’ and Jesus’ seemingly unexplained death – with ‘Mark’ ending at Mark 16:8 – have the capacity to be mysteries.”

Such “mysteries” – and even pandemics – seem to be a part of life. But from them we can learn valuable lessons, like how to develop and grow stronger, spiritually and otherwise. Which means the “answer” to such mysteries largely depends on us. “What will we do with this unexpected calamity? Will we go forward and grow stronger, or turn back the clock and start turning on each other?” In turn, “our” Covid-19 can remind us of our “fragility as human beings,” as noted in a quote from The Plague by Camus, in Part 1, early in the book:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Which certainly seems true of this latest 2020 pestilence. It certainly came as a surprise. Which brings up a book review from the Salt Lake Tribune on “The Plague,” with this relevant point:

Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.

One possible lesson? The current pestilence might lead to a massive change in our present national life, and especially our national political life. The present Coronavirus might lead to a general and sweeping American “softening of the heart.” So with all that in mind:

Merry Christmas, 2020, and may 2021 be a WHOLE lot better!

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A “time of pestilence” can show there are more things to admire in people than to despise…

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The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

The “influenza” image was accompanied by a caption: “Rules to reduce the spread of Spanish flu posting by the US Public Health Service. Cough or sneeze into your mouth with a handkerchief, avoid crowded places, do not spit, do not share the use of cups and napkins…. Typographic poster; Unites States, Washington, DC 1918. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).”

The image “COVID-19 – illustrated at right” is captioned: “A testing team responds to a confirmed case in a nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia.”

The lower image is courtesy of The Plague – Wikipedia

December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?”

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It’s mid-December, 2020. At such times – near the end of a given year – people tend to look back. They look back at what happened in that year just past. Or maybe we take a look back at “this time last year.” Sometimes it helps to see what a difference a year makes. Or recall what we were doing and thinking “this time last year.”

So – in looking back over posts from “this time last year” – I came across an unfinished draft. That is, a post I started, but never finished. The tentative title? “Bad things to good people?” Which may have been a bit of foreshadowing. That is, it may have been an early “indication of what is to come.” (2020 has been a crazy year…)

The last time I modified the post was December 15, 2019, a year ago. So now – after our crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 – seems like a good time to bring the topic up to date… I started the “bad things to good people” post off with this:

It struck me recently [in December 2019] that sometimes – when it seems that “bad things happen to good people” – God isn’t punishing us. Maybe He’s just trying to get us back on the right track, in the only way He has available. Usually through negative feedback. In the manner of a sheep dog “nipping at the heels” of a member of His flock.

The point is that through the Bible, God’s been saying for years how we should act, what we should do. But when we don’t pay attention – when that fails – the only option He has left is to resort to that negative feedback. Which brings up the difference between negative and positive feedback. Put simply, what if – instead of having to be told constantly what not to do – you could get positive feedback from God that tells you should do in the first place?

(You know, besides the stuff that’s already in the Bible.) In other words, if you “learned to speak God’s language.” That’s where the Bible comes in, and why it pays to actually read the Bible…

That brings up a theme I’ve tried to advance in this blog: That studying the Bible is a good way to get that positive feedback from God. (To “learn His language.”) If you read and study long enough, you can figure out what God wants before He has to use negative feedback.

Which brings up What the Bible says about Sheep as Metaphor. One point? Sheep are really stupid. The only way they ever get going in the right direction is to have a sheep dog “nipping” at their heels. So my point: Read and study the Bible. It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

Getting back to the “negatives” of 2020, check a review in 2020 events so far: Yep, these all happened this year. (From the New York Post). Australian brush fires, beginning December 2019 and extending into 2020. (Burning a record 47 million acres and killing at least 34 people.) Kobe Bryant’s death, Donald Trump’s impeachment (and whitewash). Blacks Lives Matter protests. An exceedingly nasty presidential election. And of course the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 stock market crash that followed.

So what “right track” could God try to get us back on? Especially in the U.S., where the death toll from COVID is approaching 292,000? (See COVID updates: US death toll surpasses World War II combat fatalities.) If I had to guess, I’d use three little words (and an addendum):

Lack of compassion – and too much hate!

If that’s too subtle, here in simpler terms: “Stop hating so much, and show a whole lot more compassion than you’ve shown the past year!” But that’s already in the Bible. (See Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:28. And What does the Bible say about compassion, especially 1st John 4:20, that if “we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?”)

Which brings us back to “stupid sheep.” Consider Why does God call us sheep? – Blogger, or What is the significance of sheep in the Bible? The latter’s reasons for the metaphor included that sheep don’t “have a defense system” and are helpless without a shepherd. Also:

. . . sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that [leader] may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:5019:34Numbers 16:2).

Following a dangerous or foolish leader? (Instead of sticking to the eternal truths of the Bible?) “Extremely gullible?” Charismatic leader? Shiny new idea? “Herd mentality?” All these sound very familiar. But getting back to why bad things can happen to good people. Or why “God” might have “sent the Coronavirus.” Or why the reminder to have more compassion…

One precedent from the Bible? The Massacre of the Innocents, which we remember on December 28, three days after Christmas. (This year “transferred” to the 29th, as Holy Innocents.) There, on hearing of Jesus’ birth, “Herod the Greatking of Judea, orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.”

So why did all those male infants have to die, near the time of Jesus’ birth? Or for that matter, why did some 292,000 Americans have to die in the past year, from COVID?

One answer came in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the 1981 book by Harold Kushner, “a Conservative rabbi.” The gist of his book was that God is benevolent but not all-powerful to prevent evil. “God does his best and is with people in their suffering, but is not fully able to prevent it.” Which brings up Finite God Theodicy

“Finite God Theodicy maintains that God is all-good (omnibenevolent) but not all-powerful,” while theodicy in general tries to answer why God permits evil. (Or COVID.) It’s a “theological construct” trying to “vindicate God in response to the evidential problem of evil that seems inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.”

Another answer – ostensibly – can be seen in Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? | Psychology Today, posted in October 2019. That review of Kushner’s book – by Ralph Lewis M.D., a “scientific thinker” – answered bluntly, “Bad things happen for the same reason anything happens.” He listed Kushner’s answer, to “drop the belief in God’s omnipotence.” And to accept his “scientific” conclusion, that the universe has no inherent purpose or design.

I don’t buy it, for reasons including those listed in May 2019’s “As a spiritual exercise,” and the recent Unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’ But then there’s a post from 2015, On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.” It talked about some wisdom I gleaned – from both Virgil the old Roman poet, and a “‘Frisco” Hell’s Angel named Magoo. And Professor Timothy Shutt, who said our human minds are just too limited to ever fully understand “God:”

We are simply not up to the task, not wired for such an overload. We are no more prepared to comprehend an answer than – to make use of a memorable example – cats are prepared to study calculus. It’s just not in our nature.

That is, Virgil took issue with the “all or nothing” idea that either there’s a God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all. (That “chance or strictly natural forces give rise to all that we see around us.”) Another name for that “all or nothing” approach is  splitting, or in more familiar terms “black and white thinking.”  

I discuss that phenomenon routinely in the notes below. In plain words, the human brain doesn’t like ambiguity. Or for that matter cognitive inconsistency. The human brain would much rather think in black-and-white terms than deal with Virgil’s nuanced approach. And Virgil crystallized his spiritual “sense of things” in the Aeneid, Book III:

Divine order could be seen in some things, but other things more or less just happened. This is not a view we tend to share, but it does make a certain sense… [A]n overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work. But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part…

So one of my conclusions? That compared to God most of us humans are “really stupid sheep.”

On the other hand some of us take the time to read and study the Bible, with an open mind. And so we realize that however much we learn – from the Bible and life experience – we can never fully comprehend “God.” Which means we can reject the idea of an unpowerful God who “does His best” but can’t – or won’t – prevent human suffering. And reject the “black and white” idea that either God is all-powerful or that there is no God, and so human life is totally random, without any meaning or purpose. (On that note see The True Test of Faith.)

As to that idea we can never fully comprehend “God?” There’s one answer: “Not yet anyway.” In the meantime, keep reading the Bible with an eye to getting that positive feedback.

It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

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“You’re going the wrong way, you stupid sheep!”

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The upper image is courtesy of When Bad Things Happen Good People – Image Results.

As to what all this means about what “we” can do about the Coronavirus, “Psychology Today’s” Dr. Lewis had one good answer, that we “rely on each other:”

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter and that what happens to them has an emotional impact on us. When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

Which is actually a very “Christian” thought. And which was pretty much my point in Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. To wit: That it would be a greater miracle if Jesus “got a bunch of normally-greedy people to share what they had,” rather than simply performing a routine magic trick.  

Re: December 28. See also Feast of the Holy Innocents (Britannica):

The feast is observed by Western churches on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29. The slain children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. It may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

As indicated in the main text, this “feast” was transferred from the 28th to the 29th. This year the day for St John, Apostle and Evangelist – normally December 28 – was transferred to Monday; standard procedure when such a feast day falls on a Sunday.

For more on metaphors see e.g. Famous Metaphors in The Bible – Literary Devices. Metaphors turn difficult ideas into simple concepts. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.

Here are some thoughts from the 2019 rough draft, included for completeness:

The point of all this is that normally – based on our own shortcomings – God has no way of telling us directly “the way we should go.” He can only direct us through negative feedback, telling us where not to go, in the manner of a sheep dog. He can only get through to us by a process of elimination... Which can be very difficult for us to comprehend. When we don’t get our way, or when we think we’ve done the Right Thing and that “God owes us,” we get mad when “bad things” happen.

See also The Gospel reading for May 4, with this about the “way of the sheep:”

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.

The lower image is courtesy of Sheep Dog Nipping Heels – Image Results. The image came with an article, “Social sheepdogs: nipping and nudging into the mainstream,” about the “sheep-dog-like” behavior of sports team-mates of the writer’s adolescent special-needs son.

December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning…”

For one November event I’m thankful for finishing, see “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age…”

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It all started with the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End, followed by the Election Legal Challenges That Seem Like They Will Never End. In the meantime we’ve also celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 26, followed by the Feast Day for St Andrew, Apostle. (Shown at left.)

That was last Monday, November 30. And aside from all that, Christmas is coming up three weeks from Friday, December 4. Which is preceded by the Season of Advent, which itself started last Sunday, November 29, in the First Sunday of Advent. About that “First Sunday,” see Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig: 

Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year [2020] has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.

So the Season of Advent is about looking ahead and New Beginnings, which brings up my “hope-fully” spending November preparing a new book for publication – in both an e-book and paperback – as detailed in the November 18 post, On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.” (Which actually was a lot of fun, remembering and writing about all those great travel adventures and pilgrimages I enjoyed – back before the COVID hit…)

But getting back to those upcoming Feast Days and Liturgical Seasons. I’ve covered them in posts like An early Advent medley, from 2015, and On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent, from 2016. And by the way, in the Daily Office set of Bible readings, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan. So it looks like another busy month…

But first, remembering Thanksgiving: Past posts include On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part IIThanksgiving 2015Thanksgiving – 2016Thanksgiving – 2017, and On Thanksgiving 2019. I started off the latter (2019) post with this: “Things have been hectic since I got back last September 25th from my 19-day, 160-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. See On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, along with Just got back – Portuguese Camino!”

Then it went on to discuss an “Old Testament reading from Isaiah 19:19-25 … of a future highway, running from Egypt to Assyria and vice versa, and which will eventually lead to something new under the sun: ‘when the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians:’”

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’

One problem? At the time the Assyrians and Egyptians were arch-enemies, with each other and with Israel. (Which they took turns conquering.) “Which means this passage looks forward to an ultimate day of peace and harmony, between those nations which were at the time bitter enemies.” So here’s hoping that that reading may be a bit of positive foreshadowing.

Heck, if Israel could have gotten along with either the Egyptians or Assyrians, today’s Democrats and Republicans should be able to get along too. (They are after all, fellow citizens of the same country.) Which brings us back to the theme Advent [as] The Season of Hope:

This year, more than ever, we really need to focus on hope! We have been bruised and battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a polarizing election, racial strife, and so much more. 

The point being that “Advent is always a season of hope, a season that reminds us never to lose sight of the hope we Christians are called to live with year-round.” 

So here’s looking forward to a happy and much-better 2021!

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results, and was featured in the previous post.

Re: Other Feast Days coming up: As noted, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan, in the Daily Office. (See What’s a DOR?) And also An early Advent medley. That post noted that Ambrose is one of “Eight Doctors of the Church” and four “Fathers of the Western Church,” and that “perhaps his greatest work was converting St. Augustine of Hippo.”

The lower image is courtesy of Looking Forward 2021 – Image Results. The image accompanied an article, New Cruise Ships To Look Forward To In 2021 – Cruise Bulletin.